Third Bird's Laments

— Faisal Khan

The dining room’s windows are open with sashes up and outside beyond the mesh screens on trees’ limbs unseen to Lil Frankie Blake are birds of various species.  Among the various chirps and warbles there are two that are specially prominent, both of which Lil Frankie regards in his periphery: one’s song forlorn and worried, a stretched quality to each syllable, as if exhortative and petitioning; issuing from the other are calls that are monosyllabic, abrupt, and imperious, sounding as if in response to the importunate pleas of the first bird, exasperated by some exaggerated urgency on the part of the latter and making a very sharp request in the final throes of its patience for the first bird to please shut up and discontinue whining.  Lil Frankie Blake is at the kitchen’s sink, 10 odd feet from the dining room windows, up on his tippy-toes with his arms stretched forth, barely broaching the sink’s rim.  Through time and trial and error, he’s arrived at the perfect calibration of sugar content that accords with his particular taste: a rounded tablespoon per 8 ounces.  His post-breakfast coffee-drinking episodes have been daily (and understandably surreptitious, as Lil Frankie is barely 7) ever since discovering dark and milkless joe several weeks ago thanks to one of Mama Blake’s friends’ half-unfinished and forsaken cup left lying on the corner of the kitchen’s counter.  He pours 8 ounces of the coffee when it’s ready into a 10-ounce cup, the extra coffee-less space at the top to forestall any spillage when stirring the sugar or any general movement of the cup here and there, as spillage would require clean-up and clean-up would require extra time and an unwelcome disruption in a timed-to-the-second routine in which stealth and expediency are of paramount importance.  Hard on the heels of Mama’s departure from the kitchen, in which she returns upstairs to her bedroom for the remainder of her morning routine consisting of make-up and general feminine preening, he adds extra water in the reservoir and ground coffee into the filter, the measurement of the added coffee not exact but erring on the side of too much to provide maybe an extra, if slight, caffeine-umph.  He adds sugar, once the coffee is poured into cup, very meticulously, taking care not to allow any sugar granules to stray and fall onto the surface of the counter immediately surrounding the cup.  He stirs, slow enough to be careful, fast enough to be heedful of the time and dispenses cursory glances towards the living room’s clock above the fireplace.  He then throws back the coffee in 3 or 4 large gulps, the final one of which is followed by a deeply satisfied exhalatory aaah, washes the cup and spoon with dishwashing liquid, ensuring the removal of all vestigial soap froth, before drying both with the small hand towel hanging on the oven door’s handle, before replacing both cup and spoon to their respective places in the clean dish rack, with all evidence of his morning coffee imbibition very fastidiously cleared, somewhat like a professional criminal.  His little heart now beats much faster and harder, seeming to convulse and thrust itself in various directions within a cavity inside his tiny chest, as if a bird was beating itself violently against the inside of its cage, its thrashing a mute plea for an exit.  His eyes pushing forth wildly at their rims, sickened by containment.  Lil Frankie now stands poised by the front door, a little soldier beyond about ready to begin his day.  For a moment only his eyes move, the remainder of him utterly still, feeling as if he had just been within the eye of some sort of storm, unmolested by the storm, but that now the storm was subsumed within him, tamed, his to control.  He clenches and unclenches a tiny fist with his right hand and counts the wrinkles and creases produced in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, most of which are too insubstantial to account for.  He commences to contemplate counting the dust specks floating in the rays of sun intruding and pouring forth from the recessed window high up on the ancillary living room’s eastern wall.  He bends to adjust one side of the bow of the tied shoelace of his right shoe so that both halves of the bow are equal in size.  One usually feels no inborn need for vigilance.  He counts Mama’s steps as she descends the stairs, dons her shoes at the base, pours coffee into her thermos, voids the coffee-maker’s filter basket of the now limp and soggy filter, places the empty carafe in the sink filling it with water to leave it thus, and walks towards him keys jingling in her hand.  He shifts slightly as she nears and pivots so that he now faces the door.  The bird, bruised crippled maimed mangled and resolutely holding back screams, violently flaps still restricted wings which are now drawn and as taut as the top of a drum.  As she opens the door, Lil Frankie Blake is down on one knee, his backpack’s straps tightened conclusively with zero laxity, the fingertips of both his little hands flush on the surface of the hardwood floor, his head up, his eyes through and beyond the open door, at the ready.  Here Lil Frankie feels loaded and cocked.  He hears the year old echo of the single gunshot from the basement, the sound muffled then but resounding now.  Daddy Blake, sober and lucid and hoping that the taste of the metal of the barrel is the taste of utter resolve, with eyes and left fist clenched, drawing from his entire body’s strength the force of one finger’s pull.  The door now fully open with Mama standing far back from the entrance giving Lil Frankie wide berth, he springs forth and sprints across the front porch, bounds over the front brick steps, produces a screeching sound to signify a hard brake as he stops abruptly by the car’s rear passenger door in the driveway.  He can hear from far off the laments of a third bird, its calls much like the squeaking of unoiled hinges on a patio door.

 


 

Writer and artist, residing somewhere quiet not too far from Atlanta, among imperious pines, and the sounds of perennial birdsong and summer cicadas.